Wines of provenance – part two
Wines of provenance – part two
Australia’s First Families of Wine are wooing the world with
their wines of great longevity and consistency. In this State of
Play tasting, they also win over the Selector Tasting Panel.
Published Selector Autumn 2014
Recently, I had the pleasure of reading my grandfather’s memoirs and as my eyes were opened to how the events of his life shaped his character, I understood the fascination with tracing your family history. Learning more about our kin, their connections to certain places, experiences and relationships, can translate into a deeper sense of self.
The same could be said of wine. If we know something of the soils that nurtured the vines, the winds that cooled the vintage and the hands that toiled in the winery, we can appreciate more fully why a style remains consistent through the years and survives well into the future.
The word used to describe this concept in wine is ‘provenance’, a term borrowed from the art world where it originally referred to the recording of an artwork’s history.
If you read Selector Summer 2013 you’d already be familiar with ‘provenance’ and its importance to wine. In that issue, we reported on the first half of our State of Play tasting with Australia’s First Families of Wine (AFFW). This group, made up of 12 revered Australian wine dynasties, formed in 2009 with the aim “to tell the world about the heritage of Australia’s premium wines and to share the stories behind them.”
In the Summer edition, the Panel sampled wines from Tyrrell’s, McWilliam’s, d’Arenberg, Howard Park, Campbells and Brown Brothers. They discovered that for a wine to display provenance, it doesn’t have to be steeped in tradition. Some of Australia’s newer styles and more recently planted wine growing areas are equally capable of producing wines that reveal a sense of place and have great longevity and consistency.
This issue, the Panel was therefore excited to find out what the remaining six AFFW producers could tell us about provenance. As with the first tasting, the families – Henschke, Jim Barry Wines, Tahbilk, Yalumba, De Bortoli and Taylors – were invited to submit three vintages of two different wines that ref lect their consistency of style and quality over time. For the tasting, the Panel was joined by guest Scott McWilliam, sixth generation family winemaker for McWilliam’s Wines.
A South Australian gemstone
One of the things the AFFW prides itself on is being “custodians of the soil”. They describe their message as being “all about the farms and rich soils that we work…Together we are the custodians of over 5000 hectares of land that includes some of Australia’s most iconic vineyards.”
One of those vineyards is Eden Valley’s Mount Edelstone, of which the Henschke family are caretakers. First recognised in 1839 for its fertile soils by German geologist Johann Merge, who named it ‘Edelstein’, meaning ‘gemstone’, the land was later granted to George Fife Angas.
But it was George’s great-grandson, Ronald Angas, who planted 16 hectares of Shiraz vineyard in 1912. The Henschke connection began in the early 1950s when Cyril Henschke contracted grapes from Ronald’s son Colin.
The first single vineyard Mount Edelstone Shiraz was released in 1952 and just four years later the 1956 vintage won the top prize at the Adelaide, Sydney and Melbourne wine shows.
Therefore, as the family explains, “When Cyril purchased the vineyard from Colin Angas in 1974, Mount Edelstone was already well entrenched as one of Australia’s greatest Shiraz wines.” The 2012 vintage marks 60 years of this historic Shiraz and, Stephen Henschke says, “it is arguably the oldest single vineyard wine made in Australia.”
For the tasting, Henschke submitted the 2002, 2005 and 2010 vintages and the Panel remarked on the incredible consistency across the years. In Phil Ryan’s words, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Same mould, same vineyard, glorious Australian icons.”
Of the three vintages, however, the 2002 came out as favourite with compliments paid to its soft, silky tannins and balanced acidity, resulting in an extremely luscious wine. That the 02 was the standout came as no surprise to Stephen, who said that “2002 was the best vintage of my 36 years of winemaking.”
While its history and consistency make Mount Edelstone Shiraz a great example of provenance, as Stephen also points out, “high quality wine should show a sense of place. Mount Edelstone Shiraz’s notes of sage leaf and black pepper typify Eden Valley Shiraz and are recognised by consumers worldwide.”
Reviving a great Australian Riesling
Another great vineyard site that’s in the hands of the AFFW is The Florita in the Clare Valley, cared for by Jim Barry Wines. If you’re of a vintage to have enjoyed the great Rieslings of the 60s and 70s, chances are you tried the Leo Buring Rieslings, which came from The Florita vineyard.
Despite the 1980s wine glut and Riesling’s forfeiting of the white wine crown to Chardonnay, Jim Barry’s sons, Mark, Peter and John, appreciated the significance of The Florita and purchased it in 1986. However, Leo Buring had held the trademark since 1946, so they weren’t able to release the first Jim Barry The Florita Riesling until 2004.
While Jim Barry’s expression of The Florita Riesling is only fairly recent, the family were excited to have it part of the Wines of Provenance tasting. As third generation family winemaker, Tom Barry, explained, “this old vineyard has a history of producing great wines over a number of decades.”
What’s more, he believes provenance is becoming increasingly meaningful to wine consumers. “We believe that it is extremely important to show our customers the quality and consistency that can come out of single vineyard wines. It gives consumers insight into the wines that they are drinking and cellaring, which builds their trust of a region and its brands – something that is incredibly important in such a competitive industry.”
The Panel sampled the 2005, 2008 and 2012 examples of The Florita, remarking on their fruit intensity and purity, true to the Clare Valley style. The highlight of the bracket was the 2008, which left an impression with its soft and silky finish.
“The 2008 vintage,” according to Tom, “was a warmer vintage in Clare but due to low yields and early ripening we were able to get the fruit off the vines before the heat wave. The 2008 Florita is a great example of a wine from that vintage and demonstrates the consistency we can achieve with our wines.”
Out with the old
Clare Valley Riesling again appeared in the offerings from Taylors Wines. This third generation producer has been part of the Clare Valley since 1969 and while maintaining their traditions is important to keeping them grounded, the Taylors team credits their 40+ year success to their dedication to innovation. As they explain, “the wine-loving public demands innovation from their favourite brands and our ability to keep delivering, in many forms, is what has kept us in their favour all this time.”
One of the greatest wine revolutions in which Taylors have been involved is farewelling the cork. As they describe, “We were among the small group of Clare Valley winemakers who decided to move our Rieslings to screwcap in 1999 and, in fact, we were the first major Australian wine brand to move all of our wine production over to screwcap soon after in 2004.” The St Andrews Riesling successfully made the transition to screwcap with the 2000 vintage picking up four gold medals.
Taylors chose this wine to demonstrate provenance because, they say, “Our St Andrews wines are the ultimate expression of the family’s estate-based approach to winemaking. Each vintage they represent the pinnacle of our viticultural and winemaking efforts to craft the finest expressions of each variety whilst allowing the terroir of the St Andrews vineyard to shine.”
Of the three vintages tasted – 2005, 2009, 2013 – it was the youngest that left a lasting impression with its sherbert, lemon sorbet characters and fantastic ageing potential. This decision came as no surprise to Taylors, who said, “The 2013 vintage was extremely favourable for Riesling in the Clare Valley.”
A delicate balance
Balancing history and innovation is delicate when it comes to producing wines of provenance. Victoria’s Tahbilk, however, are in the unique position of being able to combine the two.
Part of the Nagambie Lakes region since 1860, Tahbilk are custodians of some of the world’s oldest vines of one of the world’s rarest grape varieties, Marsanne. Outside of the variety’s home regions of Northern Rhône and Hermitage in France, Marsanne is only grown in Australia, America and Switzerland and Tahbilk have, they describe, “the largest, single holding of the variety in the world”, including the historic 1927 vines.
Fourth generation member of Tahbilk’s Purbrick family, Alastair, explained that his reason for choosing the 1927 Marsanne as a great expression of provenance was to do with the way it’s made. “It’s a classic ugly duckling to beautiful swan story. The fruit is harvested early at high natural acid levels, no chemicals are added and the juice becomes fully oxidised and then the clean juice is fermented at 11-15ºC. The resultant wine is ‘water’ white, with high acid and f lavourless. The wine is then bottled and all the magic happens. The beauty of making the wine this way is that it develops in the bottle very slowly and has long term cellaring potential. These wines will be at their best as 30- to 50-year-old wines and will match the best in the world. We release them as eight- to 10-year-olds and they must win at least one trophy prior to release.”
The Panel couldn’t have agreed more with the ability of Marsanne to age. Trent Mannell commented that the 1927 is “the only Marsanne in Australia that can rival Hunter Semillon”, adding that the multiple trophy-winning 2003 vintage was “pretty amazing for a 10-year-old wine, it’s got years to go.”
The love of the 2003 was unanimous across the Panel for its incredible youthfulness complemented by a touch of toastiness.
A poetic drop
Another of the AFFW’s great experimenters is Yalumba, Australia’s oldest family-owned winery. Having worked with Viognier for over 26 years, Yalumba is described as, “one of the most inf luential producers of Viognier in the world.”
Yalumba’s work with this aromatic white is ongoing and in 2005 they planted eight different Viognier clones that they’d propagated in their vine nursery. This planting, they say, “represents the most clonally diverse planting of Viognier in Australia. Although it will be some years before these vines are able to produce grapes, and more years again before they are of suitable standard to go in The Virgilius blend, this is the next exciting stage in the Yalumba Viognier journey.”
The Virgilus is the peak of Yalumba’s Viognier range and they submitted the 2003, 2007 and 2013 vintages to the tasting. As the Panel sniffed and swirled, Scott McWilliam recalled what Yalumba winemaker Louisa Rose had once told him about Viognier: “Close your eyes and drink the smell – you might think you’re drinking Pinot Noir.”
While the consistency across the bracket was noted, the pick was the 2003 for its amazingly fresh nose and mouth-watering texture. For fifth generation member of Yalumba’s Hill Smith family, Robert, the merits of aged Viognier is a point of contention between himself and Louisa Rose. As he explains, “It’s always personal and I debate the strength of mature Viognier with Louisa quite often. It’s not a case of whether it’s showing well or not, but whether that is when aromatics such as Viognier are best showcased. It is different from our current release (2010) and yet has vibrancy and delicacy and length – what more does one need to be convinced?!”
While Robert Hill Smith believes only about 5% of their market understands the importance of provenance, he says that small percentage, “is a valuable one. Our country has a long and rich geological provenance that counters its new world tag.”
A noble decision
Of course, one of the original and most successful Australian wine innovators is De Bortoli. Back in the early 1980s, chief winemaker Deen De Bortoli and his son Darren were inspired by the sweet wines of Germany to make an Australian version.
However, the lack of a market for sweet wines meant that growers weren’t keen to encourage the growth of botrytis cinerea, the grape mould essential to this style.
Fortunately, there was a surplus of Semillon grapes in the Riverina, which ended up as the first vintage of the legendary Noble One, now in its 30th vintage and winner of more than 117 trophies to date.
While others in the industry said Noble One was a pipe dream, third generation family member Leanne explains, “The beauty of a family company is that we can do what we want. We have a strong sense of tradition, but we also have the flexibility to be adventurous and give something a go.”
The Panel had the pleasure of tasting the 2004, 2008 and 2010 vintages of Noble One and Dave Mavor commented that all three wines were a great illustration of the style.
They were particularly taken with the 2008 vintage for its beautiful lifted, citrussy acidity, which gives it a refreshing, clean finish. This was a decision De Bortoli’s senior winemaker Julie Mortlock thought was spot on. As she explained, “it is a wonderful example of a Botrytis Semillon produced from a year in which weather conditions allowed for excellent botrytis infection and resulted in a wine exhibiting an array of concentrated flavours, lusciousness and balanced acidity.”
Provenance is a concept that’s always defined the wines of Europe. But as the AFFW is proving, Australian wines have history, consistency and longevity that affords them a leading role on the world wine stage.